Human Rights Watch: Lebanon Must Offer Syrians Asylum, Not Detention

May 20, 2011
(AFP)–May 20, 2011 .

Lebanon should grant immediate asylum to Syrians fleeing violence in their country instead of detaining them, Human Rights Watch said Friday.

"Lebanon's security forces should stop detaining Syrian refugees who cross the border into Lebanon to escape violence and persecution in their country," the New York-based rights group said.

At least 5,000 refugees have arrived in northern Lebanon since the end of April as Syrian security forces crack down on protesters demanding the end of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The rights group called on Lebanon to provide Syrian refugees "with at least temporary asylum, and above all refrain from deporting them back" to their country.

"Syria welcomed many Lebanese fleeing the war (between Israel and Hizbullah) back in 2006," said Nadim Houry, director of HRW's Beirut office. "Now it's time to return the favor.

HRW said it documented the detention by Lebanon's security forces of nine Syrian men and one child since May 15, allegedly for crossing illegally into Lebanon.

Syria's violence spilled into Lebanon on Sunday when a woman, among dozens fleeing Tall Kalakh, was shot dead and six other people were wounded.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese army confirmed reports that it has handed over three Syrian border guards and the body of a fourth soldier to Damascus, noting that the four troops fled to Lebanon "after their post came under gunfire by armed men and two of them were seriously wounded.”

"One of them died of his wounds while crossing the border,” the army said in a statement issued by its Orientation Directorate.

On Tuesday, human rights activist Nabil Halabi had said two Syrian soldiers had escaped across the border and were being held by the Lebanese army along with the body of a third.

Several rights group, including Halabi's Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, called on the Lebanese army not to hand the defectors back to Syrian authorities for fear of reprisals.

Deporting asylum seekers and refugees, Houry said, would "make Lebanon complicit with any harm they suffer at the hand of Syria's security services upon their return."

But the army in its statement said it handed the soldiers back to Syria in line with a decision by Lebanon’s judicial authorities because they were not considered refugees or deserters.

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